Nations in Transit 2016 - Macedonia

Regime Classification: 
Transitional Government or Hybrid Regime
Democracy Score: 
Macedonia and Balkans Regional AverageMacedoniaBalkans Regional
Each spoke of the spider graph represents one category of NIT rated from 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The NIT 2016 ratings reflect the period from 1 January through 31 December 2015.
Nations in Transit Category and Democracy Scores
  2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
National Democratic Governance 3.75 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.25 4.25 4.25 4.25 4.75
Electoral Process 3.25 3.25 3.50 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.50 3.75
Civil Society 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.50 3.25
Independent Media 4.25 4.25 4.25 4.25 4.50 4.75 4.75 5.00 5.00 5.25
Local Democratic Governance 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75 4.00
Judicial Framework and Independence 3.75 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.25 4.25 4.25 4.50
Corruption 4.75 4.50 4.25 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.25 4.25 4.50
Democracy Score 3.82 3.86 3.86 3.79 3.82 3.89 3.93 4.00 4.07 4.29

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. If consensus cannot be reached, Freedom House is responsible for the final ratings. The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s).

Executive Summary: 

Democratic governance in Macedonia continued to deteriorate in 2015, as the country experienced its worst political crisis since 2001. From February through June, the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) released 38 batches of wiretapped conversations that apparently revealed the direct involvement of senior government and ruling party officials in corrupt and criminal activities.[1] Polarization of the political space and civil society had already been under way for a decade, as a populist ruling elite came to dominate the weakly organized political opposition and dismantled checks and balances in favor of a powerful executive, leading to a breakdown in political dialogue in 2014. The 2015 wiretapping “bombs,” as the batches of recorded conversations came to be called, raised serious concerns about the level of state capture by the ruling political parties and exposed the failure of oversight mechanisms for the intelligence service.

The crisis was temporarily defused through European Union (EU) mediation, which resulted in an agreement signed by the four main political parties on June 2 and an additional protocol which was signed on July 15 (the Pržino Agreement). The parties agreed to a set of emergency reforms to enable early elections in April 2016. But subsequent negotiations over the details of the reforms and their implementation, marked by missed deadlines and constant conflicts between political leaders, highlighted the fragility of the dialogue. While the crisis did not significantly derail the functioning of state institutions and agencies, it did have an effect on public perceptions of the work of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. Opinion polls commissioned by the International Republican Institute indicated a drop in support for the prime minister, from 44 percent in May 2014 to 35 percent in October 2015.[2] Nonetheless, an opinion poll released by Brima Gallup in December indicated that the prime minister’s Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) still enjoys more popular support than SDSM.[3]

The European Commission’s 2015 progress report on Macedonia found that the country had regressed in a number of policy areas, most notably the judiciary and freedom of expression.[4] The commission again recommended the opening of accession negotiations with Macedonia, but it conditioned the recommendation on “continued implementation of the June/July political agreement and substantial progress in the implementation of the urgent reform priorities,” indicating that the situation would be assessed again after the elections in 2016.[5]

The year featured a record number of social protests and political demonstrations, building on civic mobilization that had begun in 2014 and standing in contrast to the relative inactivity of civil society groups in the past. Constituencies including university students and professors, high school pupils and teachers, human rights activists, journalists, trade unions, contract workers, and environmental protection advocates all organized protests in 2015, and in some cases won concessions from the government through their activism. Political demonstrations grew as the crisis deepened. On May 5, police in Skopje used force to disperse a protest in which participants demanded the resignation of the government over  a recording released by SDSM that implicated top government officials in covering up police responsibility for the murder of a young man in 2011. SDSM mounted an even larger rally on May 17, and VMRO-DPMNE matched it with a progovernment rally a day later. The two groups of protesters then set up camps in front of the government building and the parliament, respectively.

Also in May, the country faced its greatest security threat since 2001, when a police raid on a heavily armed ethnic Albanian paramilitary group in the northern town of Kumanovo ended in the deaths of eight special forces members and 10 militants. The operation and subsequent investigation left many unanswered questions, and the timing and explanation of the incident became subjects of extensive contestation between the government and the opposition. Yet despite its gravity, the incident did not seem to have a damaging effect on interethnic relations in the country.

Score Changes:

  • National Democratic Governance rating declined from 4.25 to 4.75 due to the deterioration of the political crisis, indications of large-scale illegal surveillance of citizens, and indications of massive abuse of power by high-ranking government officials.
  • Electoral Process rating declined from 3.50 to 3.75 due to indications of electoral fraud that cast doubt on the credibility of previous national elections.
  • Civil Society rating improved from 3.50 to 3.25 due to the increased mobilization of civic actors before and during the governmental crisis.
  • Independent Media rating declined from 5.00 to 5.25 due to indications of illegal surveillance of journalists, alleged government control over the editorial policies of some media outlets, and rising intimidation of and attacks on journalists.
  • Local Democratic Governance rating declined from 3.75 to 4.00 due to indications of electoral fraud that cast doubt on the credibility of the 2013 local elections, and indications of abuse of the central government’s power over local authorities.
  • Judicial Framework and Independence rating declined from 4.25 to 4.50 due to indications of political interference in the work of the judiciary.
  • Corruption rating declined from 4.25 to 4.50 due to indications of high-ranking government officials’ involvement in a number of corruption schemes.

As a result, Macedonia’s Democracy Score declined from 4.07 to 4.29.

Outlook for 2016: Implementation of the EU-brokered agreement will determine whether Macedonia can stabilize and consolidate democratic governance through political dialogue. The efficiency of the transitional government is likely to be hindered by political contestation and spoilers within its ranks, and reform deadlines may be missed, although overall progress should stay on track due to pressure and mediation from the EU and the international community. The campaign for the early elections will be dominated by the wiretapping scandal and will likely feature ethnonationalistic and confrontational rhetoric. The conduct and outcome of the elections, and the work of the judiciary in the investigation of the illegal surveillance activities exposed in 2015, will be key factors in setting the direction for democratic governance in 2016.

National Democratic Governance: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
3.75 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.25 4.25 4.25 4.25 4.75
  • Macedonia’s ongoing political crisis intensified in early 2015, when the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), began publishing a series of telephone recordings from an alleged illegal surveillance program that had been leaked to the party by whistle-blowers. The “bombs,” as the recordings came to be called, contained thousands of conversations among politicians, state officials, journalists, foreign diplomats, and other public figures. In January, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski publicly accused SDSM leader Zoran Zaev of attempting a coup in collaboration with an unnamed foreign intelligence service.[6] Zaev and three other suspects, including former state intelligence chief Zoran Veruševski, were charged with “espionage and violence against top state officials.”[7]
  • Zaev denied the charges, accusing the state intelligence service and its incumbent chief, Sašo Mijalkov, of illegally spying on more than 20,000 citizens.[8] He then published a vast number of taped conversations suggesting that the prime minister and a number of senior government and party officials from the two ruling parties—the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization­­­­–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI)—were involved in large-scale corruption and abuse of power. Dueling demonstrations against and in support of the government were organized in May (see Civil Society).
  • In the middle of this political confrontation, incidents in April and May raised the specter of ethnic conflict. First, an ethnic Albanian paramilitary unit attacked a remote police post on the border with Kosovo in April. Then, in early May, police clashed with a heavily armed group of ethnic Albanian militants in the northern town of Kumanovo, leaving eight members of the special forces and 10 militants dead. Macedonian authorities said they had been tracking the group for several months and accused it of planning terrorist attacks on public venues in order to destabilize the country.[9] However, many critics of the government, including Zaev, accused the authorities of orchestrating the clash to divert attention from the wiretapping scandal.[10] Following the incident, the head of the intelligence service and the ministers of interior and transport, who were implicated in the wiretapping scandal, resigned.[11] Despite fears at the time, the violence did not have a serious effect on interethnic relations in the country or result in further ethnic conflict. On the contrary, after the incident there were a number of peaceful assemblies in Kumanovo in support of interethnic solidarity.
  • In an effort to defuse the political crisis, the European Union (EU) initiated an arbitrated negotiating process between the four main political parties—SDSM, VMRO-DPMNE, DUI, and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA). After several unsuccessful meetings in Brussels, Strasbourg, and Skopje, heavy pressure from EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn resulted in a political agreement on June 2 (the Pržino Agreement). SDSM agreed to return to the parliament,[12] and a transitional period was established to prepare for early parliamentary elections by the end of April 2016, during which time the parties were obliged to agree on the organization of a transitional government and enact electoral reforms.[13] The European Commission further refined the process with the publication of a document on urgent reform priorities,[14] and a detailed report led by retired commission director Reinhard Priebe (the Priebe Report) that noted serious “systemic shortcomings” in several areas (interception of communications, judiciary and prosecution services, external oversight by independent bodies, elections and the media) and offered corresponding recommendations.[15]
  • Despite several breaches of the deadlines set on June 2, additional negotiations facilitated by EU representative Peter Vanhoutte produced a July 15 protocol to the original Pržino Agreement.[16] It set April 24, 2016, as the date of the elections, established a preliminary composition of the transitional government to include ministers and deputy ministers from the opposition, and created the position of a new special prosecutor. However implementation of the agreement reached a deadlock in October due to disputes over the legal implications of the wiretaps’ publication, the competences of the ministers in the transitional government, and the decision of the National Prosecutors Council to approve only half of the proposed deputy special prosecutors. The stalled negotiations were unblocked on November 6, when the political leaders struck a deal on the composition and competences of the transitional government and new laws on the protection of whistle-blowers and protection of privacy.[17]
  • Macedonia was caught up in Europe’s biggest migrant crisis in decades during 2015. Although a growing number of migrants and refugees had been transiting the country on their way from Greece to wealthier parts of the EU over the past several years, the stream reached new highs in the spring and summer months of 2015. In the wake of criticisms of Macedonia’s shelter facilities,[18] combined with media reports on illegal trafficking of migrants,[19] the parliament in June adopted amendments to the Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection that granted migrants a 72-hour legal window in which they could either seek asylum in Macedonia or leave the country.[20]
  • Faced with a record influx in August, however, Macedonian authorities declared a state of emergency,[21] deployed troops on the border with Greece, and imposed control over the number of entries into the country. This led to confrontations with migrants and refugees who tried to break the cordon; police used stun grenades in response,[22] and the clashes drew criticism from Amnesty International and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).[23] Shortly thereafter, a new reception center was established at the border crossing, and a more efficient system for transporting migrants north to the border with Serbia began to operate. In November, police and migrants clashed again when the Macedonian authorities decided to erect a fence along the border with Greece and grant entry only to refugees from certain countries affected by war. The incident left 18 police officers and a number of migrants injured.[24]
  • Two new parties emerged during the year due to fragmentation of the two main ethnic Albanian parties. After a failed attempt to oust DPA leader Menduh Thaçi, Struga mayor Zijadin Sela formed a new political party called Movement for Reforms–Democratic Party of Albanians.[25] In addition, two prominent members of DUI, former secretary general Gëzim Ostreni and head of the party general assembly Zuluf Adili, left to form a new party called Unity.[26]
  • The country’s EU accession progress remains blocked by the ongoing dispute with Greece over use of the name Macedonia. Despite the European Commission’s calls for the name issue “to be resolved as a matter of urgency,”[27] in 2015 there were no official negotiations under the UN mediation framework. However, a confidence-building step took place in June, when Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias came to Skopje on an official visit, becoming the first in his position to do so in more than a decade.[28] Macedonian foreign minister Nikola Poposki reciprocated with an official visit to Athens in December.[29]
  • In its 2016 Doing Business report, the World Bank ranked Macedonia 12th out of 189 economies for ease of doing business.[30] As the European Commission’s 2015 report notes, however, unemployment is still 28 percent, and there are concerns over public finance management, the development of overall public debt and its transparency, the high level of nonperforming loans, and the design, transparency, and implementation of the budget.[31] Domestic uncertainty and the external economic environment prompted the National Bank of Macedonia to lower its 2015 projections for both economic growth (from 4.1 to 3.2 percent) and investment growth (from 2.7 to 0.7 percent).[32]
Electoral Process: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
3.25 3.25 3.50 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.50 3.75
  • Several of the batches of wiretapped conversations that SDSM released in the first half of 2015 featured serious indications that senior government and VMRO-DPMNE officials were involved in electoral fraud, mainly related to the 2013 local elections. The resulting allegations included the issuing of fake identity documents to ethnic Macedonians from Albania’s Prespa region so that they could vote in Macedonian elections;[33] the use of dead voters’ names and manipulation of the votes of members of the army and police; conspiracy to steal election materials;[34] a party-run extortion racket to force local companies to support VMRO-DPMNE in the elections;[35] having police block the transportation of opposition party activists during electoral campaigns;[36] misuse of state institutions, state property, and the police for party electoral activities;[37] shutting down elevators to prevent people from voting; and coercing public officials into supporting the party with threats of dismissal.[38]
  • Electoral reform that would enable free and fair elections by the end of April 2016 became one of the key provisions of the EU-facilitated political agreement in 2015. On October 14, the parties reached a provisional agreement that introduced mechanisms for auditing the voter list; called for a nine-member Election Commission that would make decisions based on an absolute majority; reduced the number of diaspora electoral districts from three to one, though the district would still elect up to three parliament members if they meet a certain threshold; and left the number of in-country, multimember electoral districts at six.[39] The parliament adopted these reforms through amendments to the electoral code on November 9.
  • In February, the Constitutional Court unanimously struck down three provisions of the electoral code that regulated the marking of the voter’s right thumb to prevent multiple voting.[40] The court found the provisions to be in breach of Article 22, paragraph 2, of the constitution, which defines the right to vote as equal, universal, and direct and exercised through free elections by secret ballot. The court reasoned that the marking procedure infringed on the secrecy of voting as well as voters’ dignity and privacy.
Civil Society: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.50 3.25
  • Protests and the mobilization of various civil society groups increased dramatically in 2015. Some protester demands were met with government concessions. The government initially ignored protests organized by student and professor “plenums” in January and pushed ahead with the adoption that month of a controversial new Law on Higher Education. However, when a student plenum in February declared an “autonomous” zone at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje by setting up overnight camps at the Faculty of Philosophy, boycotting classes, and organizing alternative lectures and events, the government decided to freeze implementation of the law and established working groups with all stakeholders to draft a new one. In May, the student plenum decided to withdraw from the working groups, disputing the legitimacy of the government.[41]
  • In March, April, and October, a “pupils’ plenum” movement of high school students organized a series of marches and boycotts of classes throughout the country to protest the new state policy of external testing of graduation exams. Students complained about being detained in schools, threatened, and pressured to stay away from the protests;[42] their demands were largely ignored by the authorities.
  • A string of antigovernment demonstrations started on May 5, when angry protesters gathered in front of the national government building in Skopje in reaction to a recording released by SDSM that implicated top government officials in the attempted cover-up of police responsibility for the murder of a young man named Martin Neškovski on election night in 2011.[43] Police used stun grenades and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators, and the clashes resulted in 38 injured policemen and 30 arrests;[44] several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights groups accused the police of using unwarranted and excessive force.[45] Changes to the Law on Police that were adopted in March had authorized officers to use rubber bullets and tasers against groups threatening public order. The national human rights ombudsman criticized the changes at the time, noting that they ran contrary to international standards.[46] After the May 5 events, daily protests organized by the informal civic movement Protestiram were held in front of the parliament, while police blocked access to the government building. The restriction was criticized by the ombudsman and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights,[47] which said it violated the constitutional rights to assemble and protest peacefully.
  • The protests peaked on May 17, when opposition parties led by SDSM organized a massive rally in Skopje along with a large number of NGOs and civil rights movements.[48] After the rally, protesters, united in an informal coalition of more than 70 civil society organizations and 15 political parties called “Citizens for Macedonia,” set up a camp in front of the government building. VMRO-DPMNE responded with a large progovernment rally on May 18, which was also supported by sympathetic civil society organizations and led to an encampment in front of the parliament building.[49] Both camps were dismantled soon after the June 2 agreement.
  • The important role of civil society in the protests notwithstanding, the crisis negotiations that followed failed to include the civic sector, despite appeals from the United Nations,[50] an initiative by the Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis”–Skopje (IDSCS) to grant NGOs observer status during the negotiations,[51] and a joint call from the Platform for the Fight against Corruption and Network 23 for involvement of civil society in the decision-making process concerning the June 2 agreement.[52] Another call by the Platform for the Fight against Corruption,[53] demanding that public authorities initiate an investigation into the content of the wiretaps, met with mixed results, as only the public prosecutor’s office published a partial account of its activities on this issue.[54]
  • Internal divisions and politicization marred trade union activism in Macedonia in 2015. In January, the independent Trade Union for Education, Science, and Culture (SONK) initiated a strike to demand salary hikes and the suspension of a government policy of imposing fines based on teacher evaluations. The European Trade Union Committee for Education backed the demands of the organizers,[55] who also protested the government’s decision to introduce substitute teachers as part of a strategy to stop the strike.[56] However, an agreement reached by the SONK leadership and the government in February caused internal splits, with a number of teachers and the Multiethnic Trade Union for Education (MESO) openly protesting the decision.[57] In September, MESO itself was controversially ousted from the Federation of Trade Unions of Macedonia due to its alleged association with NGOs and other civic movements outside of the federation.[58]
  • In a victory for the labor movement, the government decided in August to do away with a tax on social benefits for contract workers and casual employees. An earlier decision to substantially raise the tax had prompted protests that began at the end of 2014 and continued through the first half of 2015.[59]
  • NGOs continue to play a limited role in the legislative process. Electronic platforms designed to encourage civic participation in policymaking are rarely used. For example, in the first half of 2015, NGOs and citizens provided only 27 comments for 10 out of 84 draft laws posted on the Unique National Electronic Registry of Legal Acts in Macedonia (ENER); the comments received only two responses from the corresponding ministries.[60]
Independent Media: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
4.25 4.25 4.25 4.25 4.50 4.75 4.75 5.00 5.00 5.25
  • In February, SDSM announced that more than 100 journalists had been put under surveillance by the intelligence service and published several packages of wiretaps that indicated governmental control over the editorial policies and functioning of a number of media outlets. The recordings allegedly reveal high-ranking government officials giving instructions to progovernment journalists and media owners on the content of news stories, government officials granting exclusive footage to favorable media, politicians picking journalists and party members for jobs at the public broadcaster, and clientelistic and corrupt interactions between government officials and outlet owners.[61]
  • Controversy over the prosecution of journalist Tomislav Kežarovski, who was convicted in 2013 of revealing the identity of a protected witness, continued in 2015. Kežarovski had been transferred from prison to house arrest in 2013 pending the outcome of an appeal, but on January 16 the Court of Appeals upheld the verdict with a reduced sentence of two years’ imprisonment. The court decision and Kežarovski’s return to prison to serve the remainder of his term, both of which were contested by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights on legal procedural grounds,[62] sparked journalist protests and condemnation from the European Federation of Journalists,[63] Reporters Without Borders,[64] and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).[65] Four days later, Kežarovski was conditionally released for health reasons.
  • In March, the Data Verification Commission, Macedonia’s lustration service, declared that editor Jadranka Kostova of the critical magazine Fokus had been an informant for the security services in the 1990s. The finding was disputed by the Journalists’ Association of Macedonia and the OSCE representative for freedom of the media, who said it could be seen as “pressuring the magazine, endangering the media outlet and, consequently, having a chilling effect on media freedom.”[66]
  • Threats and attacks against journalists were a worrying problem in 2015. In April, a funeral wreath was delivered to the home of journalist Borjan Jovanovski.[67] In May, opposition columnist Branko Tričkovski received death threats and his car was set on fire,[68] while in June, videos emerged that showed Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Peševski pushing critical journalist Saše Ivanovski. At least nine other attacks on both critical and progovernment journalists were reported in the media in 2015.
  • There are persistent structural problems in the media environment regarding transparency of government funding for national and local media through advertising. An analysis of governmental spending in the media in the last quarter of 2014, prepared by the Journalists’ Association of Macedonia, found that government advertising procurement continued to be carried out in a nontransparent manner, with a large proportion of the allocations going to progovernment media.[69]
Local Democratic Governance: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75 4.00
  • Several of the packages of wiretaps released by SDSM in the first half of 2015 implicated senior government and party officials in large-scale fraud in the local elections of 2013. The recorded conversations indicated manipulation of polling materials, intimidation of voters and public employees, faking of voter lists, use of phantom voters, and limitations on voter access to polling sites. Another set of wiretaps revealed cases in which the central government allegedly abused its power over local authorities and their competences. For example, the prime minister was accused of ordering a physical attack on the mayor of the Skopje municipality of Centar, conspiring to set up a protest in front of the municipal building in 2013,[70] and manipulating legal permits and urban-planning regulations for attractive real-estate locations in the capital.[71]
  • Although the level of public participation in local decision making had been abysmally low for the entire postindependence period, an increasing number of citizen initiatives related to local issues emerged in 2015. On April 26, Skopje’s Centar municipality held the first local referendum in Macedonia’s history, based on a citizen initiative regarding the government’s plans to revamp the façade of a landmark shopping mall from the 1970s. Centar, literally in the center of Skopje, is the richest municipality in Macedonia and a principal site for most of the construction activities of the controversial Skopje 2014 project. It has also become a site for intense confrontation between the national government and the opposition-led local authorities. The April referendum failed, as the 40.5 percent voter turnout did not reach the required 50 percent threshold. However, 95 percent of the participating voters opted for the preservation of the original façade.[72] Another failed initiative reflected citizen discontent with plans in Skopje’s Karpoš municipality that allegedly favored construction of commercial buildings over urban parks. Following protests on the issue, the citizen initiative “Together for the Greenery in Karpoš” submitted a proposal for a referendum, but it failed to gather the required number of signatures to trigger a vote.[73]
  • Transparency and accountability of local administrations remain insufficient. In a public opinion survey published in May, 50 percent of respondents had a negative perception of the transparency of local administrations, while almost two-thirds believed that employment in municipal administrations can be obtained only through patronage from the party in power.[74] A study on budgetary transparency showed that in 2015 only nine municipalities had their budget proposals posted on their websites, while three did not have a functional website at all.[75] Another analysis found that more than half of the 42 municipalities assessed had below-average scores on good governance and transparency.[76]
Judicial Framework and Independence: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
3.75 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.25 4.25 4.25 4.50
  • Executive and partisan encroachment on the independence of the judiciary was among the central topics of the wiretapping scandal. During the first half of the year, SDSM released several batches of recorded discussions that indicated direct political influence and governmental control over the recruitment and activities of judges and prosecutors. The conversations revealed attempts by high-ranking government and party officials to sway court decisions;[77] interparty trade-offs and bargains over judicial appointments; clientelistic relations between government officials and public prosecutors;[78] ministers keeping records of favorable and unfavorable judges and manipulating the process of election and promotion of judges and prosecutors based on political eligibility and nepotism;[79] and a lawmaker instructing the head of the Data Verification Commission to label a local judge as an informant for the security services.[80]
  • As part of its mediation efforts, the European Commission sponsored a report that provided recommendations on systemic rule-of-law issues related to communications interception. A Senior Experts’ Group led by retired commission director Reinhard Priebe prepared the document.[81] The “Priebe Report,” published in June, noted a number of serious deficiencies in the oversight mechanisms for the judiciary and prosecution services, facilitating violations of fundamental rights, infringements of laws protecting personal data, political interference, lack of transparency in the nomination and appointment of judges, and weaknesses in the system of performance management for judges and court staff. The report also outlined a set of recommendations to improve the appointment and promotion of judges and prosecutors, and to strengthen the independence of the criminal investigation services and administrative courts.
  • In September, after several months of EU-brokered negotiations, the political parties reached agreement on the adoption of a new Law on Special Prosecution and the appointment of Katica Janeva as a new special prosecutor responsible for investigating the allegations raised by the illegal surveillance recordings.[82] The law gives the prosecutor discretion over the selection of her team of investigators and an unlimited budget. However, on October 14 the Council of Public Prosecutors elected only half of the 14 prosecutors Janeva had requested, arguing that seven would be sufficient for the proposed scope of work,[83] and that the funding the special prosecutor had sought was far too high given what regular prosecutors received.[84] After Janeva refused to accept the decision, the political parties—under heavy international pressure—asked the council to comply with Janeva’s demand for 14 prosecutors. The council continued to resist until November, when it approved five out of the seven disputed nominations.
  • On February 11, without prior public debate, the parliament adopted a new Law on the Council Determining the Facts and Initiating Procedure for Liability of Judges. The law establishes a new council responsible for initiating disciplinary and unethical-conduct proceedings for judges before the Judicial Council. The law sparked criticism from NGOs, which argued that it unconstitutionally suspended some of the competences of the Judicial Council, created discriminatory conditions for membership, and granted the Judicial Council authority to elect the members of the Council Determining the Facts.[85] The Democratic Alliance party submitted an appeal to the Constitutional Court for review of Article 6 of the law, which defines the composition of the new council.[86] However, in November the Constitutional Court upheld the disputed provisions.
  • In 2015, the European Court of Human Rights adopted judgments in three cases that found violations by the Macedonian government.[87] All three involved brutality and degrading treatment by the police. Substandard prison conditions and overcrowding continue despite regular criticism from human rights groups and the European Commission, which noted in its 2015 progress report that lack of funding and mismanagement in the prison system are major sources of “systemic breaches of international human rights standards.”[88]
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
4.75 4.50 4.25 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.25 4.25 4.50
  • A number of the conversations published by SDSM in the first half of 2015 indicated involvement of the prime minister and other government and party officials in major corruption schemes, including plans to take cuts from a multimillion-euro deal for the construction of two motorways;[89] negotiating bribes to speed up a contract for surveillance equipment;[90] violations of procurement procedures in order to profit illegally; fixing tenders,[91] in one case for a company associated with a progovernment journalist;[92] cronyism in promotion and employment of party activists in the public administration;[93] extraction of money from tender-awarded companies for party purposes and pressuring firms to pay for partisan advertisements in media; and the Ministry of Interior purchasing a luxury limousine to be secretly used by the prime minister.[94]
  • There was some progress toward a more integrated whistle-blower protection policy. Although the government had proposed related changes to the law on anticorruption in 2014, the proposal was still in the drafting stage during 2015. The Law on Employees in the Public Sector that came into force in February 2015 introduced some provisions for protection of employees who report crimes or unlawful actions that endanger the public interest, security, or defense.[95] In an important breakthrough, a new law on protection of whistle-blowers was adopted on November 9 as a result of the wiretapping scandal and the subsequent political negotiations. The law regulates the protection and compensation of both internal and external whistle-blowers, as well as the competences of the institutional stakeholders responsible for whistle-blowing cases.
  • Analysts note that there is a large gap between estimates of bribery and the actual number of complaints and investigations by authorities,[96] raising doubts about the efficacy and political will of state institutions tasked with tackling corruption. Watchdog organizations that monitor public procurement reported a number of case studies in which procedures were misused in order to sway the selection of contractors or limit competition, which are obvious warning signs of possible corruption and demonstrate the necessity of stronger public-procurement control mechanisms.[97]

Author: Ivan Damjanovski

Ivan Damjanovski is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at the Faculty of Law at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. He is also an associate researcher at the Institute for Democracy ‘Societas Civilis’–Skopje (IDSCS).


[1] Transcripts from the conversations can be found on the website of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM),

[2] “Survey of Public Opinion in Macedonia,” International Republican Institute, November 2015, slide 46,

[3] “‘Brima Gallup’: 33.3 percent would vote for VMRO-DPMNE while 14.7 would vote for SDSM,” META, 13 December 2015,

[4] “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Report 2015,” European Commission, 10 November 2015,

[5] “EU Enlargement Strategy,” European Commission, 10 November 2015, p. 14,

[6] “Macedonian PM: Zaev Threatened Me with Materials from Foreign Intelligence Services,”, 31 January 2015,

[7] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonia Opposition Leader Charged with Spying,” Balkan Insight, 31 January 2015,

[8] “Заев: Контролирани и прислушувани се над 20000 граѓани” [Zaev: Over 20,000 citizens have been monitored and eavesdropped on],, 9 February 2015,

[9] Irena Radovanović, “Разбиена терористичката група која планирала масовни убиства во Македонија” [Terrorist group that planned mass murder in Macedonia broken up], MIA, 11 May 2015,

[10] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Ambassadors Press Macedonia to Probe Wiretap Claims,” Balkan Insight, 12 May 2015,

[11] “Macedonia Ministers Resign amid Phone-Tapping Scandal,” British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 13 May 2015,

[12] SDSM returned to the parliament on September 1.

[13] “2 June 2015 Agreement,” European Commission,; “Annex to the agreement signed on 2 June 2015,” European Commission, 19 June 2015,

[14] “Urgent Reform Priorities for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (June 2015),” European Commission,

[15] “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Recommendations of the Senior Experts’ Group on Systemic Rule of Law Issues Relating to the Communications Interception Revealed in Spring 2015,” European Commission, 8 June 2015,

[16] “Protocol to the Agreement of 2 June 2015,” European Commission, 15 July 2015,

[17] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Late-Night Deal Saves Macedonia Crisis Agreement,” Balkan Insight, 6 November 2015,

[18] “Мемети: Мигрантите се држат во нечовечки услови” [Memeti: Migrants are being held in inhumane conditions], Makfax, 12 June 2015,; “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Submission to the Human Rights Committee,” Amnesty International, 2015, pp. 28–31,

[19] “Tracking Down Macedonia`s Migrant Kidnap Gang,” Channel 4, 5 June 2015,

[20] “Law Amending the Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection,” Official Gazette, 101/2015.

[21] The Ministry of Interior told the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that more than 52,000 migrants arrived from Greece between June and August 2015. “European Migration Crisis: IOM Emergency Response Plan for Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, September–December 2015,” IOM, September 2015,

[22] “Macedonian Police Drive Back Refugee Crowd on Greek Border,” Reuters, 21 August 2015,

[23] Amnesty International, “Macedonia: Thousands Trapped and at Risk of Violence as Border Sealed,” news release, 21 August 2015,; “Migrants Try to Charge Macedonian Police Line at Greek Border,” The Guardian, 21 August 2015,

[24] “Migrants Clash with Macedonian Police as Fence Goes Up on Greek Border,” The Guardian, 29 November 2015,

[25] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonian Albanians Form New Opposition Party,” Balkan Insight, 6 July 2015,

[26] “Gëzim Ostreni’s New Political Party, ‘Uniteti’ Is Now Official,” META, 3 October 2015,

[27] “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Report 2015,” European Commission, 10 November 2015, p. 5,

[28] “Коѕиас во Скопје: Постоењето на оваа држава е благодет, решение за името е можно” [Kotzias in Skopje: The existence of this state is a blessing, resolution of the name dispute is possible], 24 Vesti, 24 June 2015,

[31] “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Report 2015,” European Commission.

[32] “Ревизија на макроекономските проекции, октомври 2015 година” [Revision of macroeconomic projections, October 2015], National Bank of the Republic of Macedonia (NBRM), 12 November 2015,

[33] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonia Tapes Reveal Blatant Election Trickery,” Balkan Insight, 6 March 2015,; Goran Rizaov, “New Tapes Highlight Chicanery in Macedonian Local Poll,” Balkan Insight, 12 March 2015,

[34] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonia Opposition Reveals More Evidence of Election Fraud,” Balkan Insight, 10 March 2015,

[35] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Tapes Reveal Bid to Snatch Macedonian Opposition Bastion,” Balkan Insight, 18 March 2015,

[36] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonia Tapes Reveal Blatant Election Trickery,” Balkan Insight, 6 March 2015,; Svetlana Antić Jovčevska, “СДСМ—Докази за изборни нерегуларности во Куманово” [SDSM—Evidence of electoral irregularities in Kumanovo], Radio Slobodna Evropa, 2 April 2015,

[37] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Tapes Reveal Bid to Snatch Macedonian Opposition Bastion,” Balkan Insight, 18 March 2015,; “‘Бомба’ на СДСМ: Пара-полиција во Охрид” [SDSM ‘bomb’: Para-police in Ohrid], Radio Slobodna Evropa, 16 April 2015,

[38] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonia Opposition Reveals More Evidence of Election Fraud,” Balkan Insight, 10 March 2015,

[39] Pelagija Stojančova, “Што договорија партиите за изборите?” [What did the party agree on the elections?], Radio Slobodna Evropa, 19 October 2015,

[40] Constitutional Court of Republic of Macedonia, Decision 93/2014, 11 February 2015,                SUD.nsf

[41] “‘Студентски пленум’ излегува од работните групи со МОН” [‘Student plenum’ leaves the working groups], META, 12 May 2015,

[42] Srgan Stojancov, “Средношколски марш—Лошите образовни реформи нè бркаат во странство” [High school pupils march—Bad educational reforms are forcing us to move abroad], Radio Slobodna Evropa, 21 October 2015,; Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonia Protesting Pupils Say Teachers Locked Them up,” Balkan Insight, 4 November 2015,

[43] “Нова ‘бомба’ на СДСМ: Убиството на младиот Мартин Нешкоски во фокусот на разговорите” [New SDSM ‘bomb’: Murder of young Martin Neskovski in the focus of the conversations], 24 Vesti, 5 May 2015,

[44] Mirjana Spasovska, “Скопје ден потоа, повредени, приведени” [Skopje a day after, injured, arrested], Radio Slobodna Evropa, 6 June 2015,

[45] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonian Police Hunt Down Protesters,” Balkan Insight, 6 May 2015,

[46] “Мислење по Предлог на Законот за изменување и дополнување на Законот за полиција” [Opinion on the draft law amending the Law on Police], Ombudsman of the Republic of Macedonia, 27 November 2015,

[47] Marija Tumanovska, “Не држи вода ограничувањето на протестите” [Limitations on the protests don’t hold water], Radio Slobodna Evropa, 8 May 2015,; “Двомесечен извештај за човековите права во Република Македонија (април–мај 2015)” [Bimonthly report on human rights in the Republic of Macedonia (April–May 2015)], Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia, 23 June 2015,

[48] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonians Stage Mass Protest for PM’s Resignation,” Balkan Insight, 17 May 2015,

[49] Srgan Stojancov, “Груевски: Нема повлекување” [Gruevski: No backing off], Radio Slobodna Evropa, 18 May 2015,

[50] “Assistant Secretary-General Voices Deep Concern at Human Rights Challenges in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 22 May 2014,

[51] Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis”–Skopje (IDSCS), “Повик до политичкото лидерство за вклучување на граѓанското општество како набљудувач во преговорите за излез од кризата” [Call to the political leadership to include civil society as observer in the crisis resolution negotiations], news release, 15 May 2015,

[52] Platform for the Fight against Corruption and Network 23, “Call to Political Leaders for Transparent and Participative Process of Decision Making Concerning the Agreement of June 2 and July 15, 2015,” news release, 31 August 2015,

[53] Platform for the Fight against Corruption, “Повторен повик на Платформата за борба против корупцијата” [Second call of the Platform for the Fight against Corruption], news release, 20 July 2015,

[54] Council of Public Prosecutors of the Republic of Macedonia, news release, 22 July 2015,

[55] “Strike Goes On—But Still Hope for a Deal in Macedonia,” European Trade Union Committee for Education, 28 January 2015,

[56] Marija Tumanovska, “Штрајк има, а до кога не зависи од СОНК, туку од власта” [There is a strike, for how long doesn’t depend on SONK, but on the government], Radio Slobodna Evropa, 23 January 2015,

[57] Svetlana Božinovska, “Штрајкот во училиштата прекинат, дел од членството на СОНК незадоволно” [Strike in schools stopped, part of SONK membership unsatisfied], 24 Vesti, 4 February 2015,

[58] Ile Petrevski, “Мултиетничкиот синдикат исклучен од ССМ” [Multiethnic Trade Union expelled from SSM], 24 Vesti, 22 September 2015,

[59] “Се укинува законот за хонорарците” [Contract workers tax to be terminated], Nova Makedonija, 29 July 2015,

[60] Borjan Gjuzelov, “Огледало на владата: квартален извештај бр.5 за периодот 1 јануари–31 март 2015” [Government mirror: Quarterly report no. 5 for the period 1 January–31 March 2015], Macedonian Center for International Cooperation, 2015, p. 10; Borjan Gjuzelov and Marija Sazdevski, “Огледало на владата: квартален извештај бр.6 за периодот 1 април–30 јуни 2015” [Government mirror: Quarterly report no. 6 for the period 1 April–30 June 2015], Macedonian Center for International Cooperation, 2015, p. 10.

[61] Goran Rizaov, “Opposition: Journalists Tapped En Masse in Macedonia,” Balkan Insight, 25 February 2015,; Siniša Jakov Marušić, “New Tapes Reveal Macedonia Govt’s Grip on Media,” Balkan Insight, 22 April 2015,

[62] “Месечен извештај—јануари 2015” [Monthly report—January 2015], Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia, 23 February 2015,

[63] “Европската федерација на новинари: Срам за Македонија” [European Federation of Journalists: Shame on Macedonia], Utrinski Vesnik, 16 January 2015,

[64] “RSF Condemns Sentence for Macedonian Journalist Tomislav Kezarovski,” Reporters Without Borders, 16 January 2015,,47490.html

[65] Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, “Skopje Court Ruling to Send Journalist Back to Prison Is a Serious Setback for Media Freedom in the Country, Says Mijatović,” news release, 17 January 2015,

[66] Journalists’ Association of Macedonia, “Лустрација за дискредитација на новинари” [Lustration for discrediting journalists], news release, 31 March 2015,;

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, “Jadranka Kostova Case: Lustration Process Should Not Be Tool to Suppress Critical Voices, Says OSCE Representative,” news release, 31 March 2015,

[67] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Reporter’s Death Threat Angers Macedonian Journalists,” Balkan Insight, 22 April 2015,

[68] “Outspoken Columnist Threatened, His Car Torched,” Reporters Without Borders, 29 May 2015,,47928.html

[69] “Јавните пари во медиумскиот простор” [Public finances in the media environment], Journalists’ Association of Macedonia, 2015,

[70] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonia Opposition: PM ‘Ordered Attack on Mayor,’” Balkan Insight, 20 April 2015,

[71] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonian PM Accused of Real-Estate Corruption,” Balkan Insight, 15 March 2015,

[72] State Election Commission, news release on the Centar referendum results,

[73] “Неуспешна иницијативата за спас на зеленилото во Карпош 4” [Unsuccessful initiative to save greenery in Karpoš 4], META, 2 October 2015,

[74] Jovan Bliznakovski and Miša Popović, “Судир на интереси и корупција на локално ниво” [Conflicts of interest and corruption on the local level], IDSCS, May 2015,

[75] Borče Trenovski, Vesna Garvanlieva Andonova, Marjan Nikolov, Slagan Penev, Iskra Andreeva, and Ana Janevska Deleva, “Транспарентност на буџетскиот процес кај општините во Македонија” [Transparency of the budgetary process in the municipalities in Macedonia], Center for Economic Analyses, 2015,

[76] “Local Transparency and Accountability Study (LOTOS),” Centre for Research and Policy Making (CRPM), 2015,

[77] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonia Opposition: Transcripts Show ‘Staggering’ Interference in Courts,” Balkan Insight, 15 February 2015,

[78] Frosina Dimeska, “Бомба 12 на СДСМ: Судски пресуди по нарачка” [SDSM bomb 12: Court verdicts on order], Radio Slobodna Evropa, 19 March 2015,

[79] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Courts ‘Fixed’ in Macedonia, Opposition Says,” Balkan Insight, 19 March 2015,; Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonia Ruling Party ‘Distributed State Jobs to Members,’” Balkan Insight, 14 April 2015,

[80] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonia Tapes Suggest Govt Meddling with Lustration,” Balkan Insight, 8 April 2015,

[81] “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Recommendations of the Senior Experts’ Group on Systemic Rule of Law Issues relating to the Communications Interception Revealed in Spring 2015,” 8 June 2015,

[82] Law on Public Prosecution and Related Offenses arising from the Content of the Illegal Interception of Communications, Official Gazette, 159/2015. The appointment of Janeva, a little-known prosecutor from the small town of Gevgelija, was greeted with mixed reviews from the expert public. For example, see Goce Mihajloski, “Калајџиев: Разочаран сум од изборот на обвинителката” [Kalajdžiev: I’m disappointed with the choice of the prosecutor], 24 Vesti, 15 September 2015,

[83] “Советот го преполови тимот на Јанева: прекршени се законот и Договорот од Пржино, смета Јанева” [The council halved Janeva’s team: The law and the Pržino agreement breached, Janeva claims],, 14 October 2015,

[84] Council of Public Prosecutors of the Republic of Macedonia, news release, 14 October 2015,

[85] “Месечен извештај за човековите права во Република Македонија—февруари 2015” [Monthly report on human rights in the Republic of Macedonia—February 2015], Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia, 20 March 2015, pp. 4–5,; Neda Chalovska, Jasmina Golubovska, Voislav Stojanovski, and Aleksandar Jovanoski, “Judiciary and Fundamental Rights in the Republic of Macedonia,” Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia, 7 July 2015, pp. 21–23,

[86] “Демократскиот сојуз бара преиспитување на Законот за одговорност на судии” [Democratic Alliance wants reexamination of the Law on Liability of Judges],, 24 February 2015,

[87] “Case of Andonovski v. the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” European Court of Human Rights, 23 July 2015,; “Case of Kitanovski v. the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” European Court of Human Rights, 22 January 2015,{"itemid":["001-150640"]}; “Case of Ilievska v. the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” European Court of Human Rights, 7 August 2015,

[88] “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Report 2015,” European Commission, 10 November 2015, p. 20,

[89] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “New Tapes Show Macedonian PM Fixing Cuts,” Balkan Insight, 26 March 2015,

[90] Meri Jordanovska, “Macedonia Secret Police Chief to Sue over Bribe Claims,” Balkan Insight, 2 April 2015,

[91] “‘Бомба’ 14 на СДСМ—Груевски местел тендери за милионска провизија” [SDSM ‘bomb’ 14—Gruevski set up tenders for millions in cuts], Radio Slobodna Evropa, 26 March 2015,

[92] Zorana Gadžovska Spasovska, “Аферата Визарис и случајот Сопот во фокусот на 25-та ‘бомба’” [The Vizaris affair and the case of Sopot in the focus of 25th ‘bomb’], Radio Slobodna Evropa, 23 March 2015,

[93] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Macedonia Ruling Party ‘Distributed State Jobs to Members,’” Balkan Insight, 14 April 2015,

[94] Siniša Jakov Marušić, “Opposition: Tapes Show Macedonian Ruling Party Ran Rackets,” Balkan Insight, 14 May 2015,

[95] Article 30, Law on Employees in the Public Sector, Official Gazette, 27/2014.

[96] Misha Popovikj, “Imagine If You Were a Low Paid Clerk: The Challenges with Using Corruption Reporting Mechanisms in Controlling Corruption in Macedonia,” IDSCS, October 2015,

[97] For example, see Sabina Fakić, “Намалување на корупцијата во јавните набавки преку засилена контрола” [Reducing public-procurement corruption through enhanced control], Macedonian Center for International Cooperation, Transparency Macedonia, 2015,

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